INDIANAPOLIS - The last time the Eagles drafted a player out of Villanova, it didn't turn out too badly.
The name may ring a bell. Brian Westbrook? Little guy with a big heart who they took a flier on in the third round of the 2002 draft? Had a handful of good games for them.
The Eagles could possibly be turning to the Main Line school for help again in a couple of months. After giving up 50 sacks last season, they are in the market for offensive line help. And one of the top o-linemen in this year's draft is Villanova's Ben Ijalana.
NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock has Ijalana rated as one of the top six offensive tackles in the draft, behind only Anthony Castonzo of Boston College, Nate Solder of Colorado, Tyron Smith of USC and Gabe Carimi of Wisconsin, and in a dead heat for the No. 5 spot with Derek Sherrod of Mississippi State.
Costonzo, Solder, Smith and Carimi all are expected to be first-round picks, possibily before the Eagles select at No. 23. Ijalana and Sherrod could go late in the first round or in the early part of the second.
"[Ijalana] is a really good football player with a lot of upside,'' Mayock said. "He's got great feet and long arms. He's not as tall as they'd like [for a tackle]. But I think he's got the arm length and feet to stay outside."
Ijalana, 6-3 1/2, 317 pounds, is one of the 330-plus invitees to this week's scouting combine, but won't be able to work out for the league's coaches and scouts. He still is recovering from late-December surgery to repair a bilateral sports hernia.
Ijalana, who played 'Nova's final four games with the injury, including their three playoff games, will work out for scouts at Villanova on March 16.
"It shows how tough a kid he is that he played that many games with [the double hernia]," Mayock said.
Ijalana was examined by league doctors yesterday and will participate in 15-minute interviews with several clubs, but won't work out until next month.
"My main concern here is just to show teams and scouts how I'm healing," he said. "I'm just focusing on my body and waiting for my Pro Day."
Ijalana was invited to last month's Senior Bowl, but wasn't able to participate because of the surgery. Not being able to play in the Senior Bowl hurt Ijalana. It would have given him a chance to eliminate any concerns teams might have about using a first- or high second-round pick on a Division 1-AA lineman.
Regardless, Ijalana has come a long way in 4 years. Villanova was the one and only school that offered him a scholarship coming out of Rancocas Valley High School in 2007. Now he's expected to be one of the first six offensive tackles taken.
"I'm blessed," Ijalana said. "I remember my freshman year. We were getting ready to play Maryland. Mark Ferrante, my offensive line coach, brought me in and said, 'You're starting at tackle.'
"He said then that he believed I could play in the NFL. Said I showed glimpses of really good things. He said something then that stuck with me to this day. He said, 'If you can play, they'll find you.' I truly believe that. It's why I'm here now. There might be knocks on my level of competition, but it's what you do out on the football field that matters."
Ijalana started 53 straight games at Villanova, all at tackle. But his height has some teams looking at him as a guard.
"When I wake up tomorrow, I'm still going to be this height," Ijalana said. "There's nothing I can do about it. I'm not 6-6. I'm not 6-8. But if you put cleats and a helmet on me, I can be. I'm just trying to show them my skill set." *